Well, we’re five days in and we’re making it. It’s hard to think of words to describe our experience to this point. Everyone hears ‘Costa Rica’ and thinks about beautiful beaches, surfing, and monkeys playing in the canopy above. That’s not where we live. Now don’t get me wrong – I am not complaining. We are going to visit just such a place next week (Manuel Antonio), but I am glad we aren’t living in such a place. I expect it will be an amazing spot to visit, so I am thankful it is an easy trip from our home to most places in Costa Rica – including the “postcard” beaches. We’ll tell you all about Manuel Antonio sometime later, but for now let’s talk about where we do live.
Torie and I just came in from a walk down to a little grocery store for some plantains (making platanos maduros). It’s probably a little over a half mile round trip. On our walk down a single road, we saw at least 7 buses, 30 cars pass by, dozens of motorcycles/scooters/dirt bikes, two bars… you get the idea – we live in a pretty developed area. But we also walked by a few cows on the side of the road – which had not been in the lone green field in this stretch of houses and small business previously. We are in a strange but awesome mix of urban sprawl from nearby San Jose (which is visible from our house) and rural land. Take the bus ten minutes down the hill from our house (including stops) and you are in a major shopping area. Take it 10 minutes up the hill and you can see coffee plantations and green pastures or trees for miles.
You don’t even have to leave our house to understand the juxtaposition of urban/rural that surrounds us. In the mornings we have been woken by roosters crowing, owls hooting, and birds chirping. Between those rustic sounds are horns blowing, muffler-less cars chugging up the hill, and buses roaring down it. I won’t lie and say it’s comfortable yet. If we had wanted comfortable, we would have stayed in the States. We know we can always go home and live comfortably there – that’s not what this excursion is about. It’s about being on an adventure.
Going to the mall, walking around town, and getting lunch probably doesn’t qualify as an “adventure” to you, but our perspectives have changed. Today, we decided to take a trip to San Pedro (big city, pretty much part of San Jose). We’d been with our landlord and someone from the school – both times in their cars. We don’t have a car, so we went on the bus. The buses of Costa Rica… I could spend a post on them. They drive fast; everyone drives fast. If you’ve been to Central America you understand about the roads and driving. There are police, and there are some road signs, but it seems to me as they are mere suggestions not so much requirements. For example, yesterday we were riding through town and came to an intersection. The light was green, so we flew on through. But there was also a stop sign. Did the green light over-rule the stop sign? Was the stop sign there before the light and never got taken down? Who knows.
Back to our trip. We got on the bus for a somewhat easy ride to a small bus station and got off to change buses. As it pulled off, we realized it was continuing on to San Pedro (where we intended to go). Oh well, we hopped on the next one ten minutes later and were cruising down the nameless roads of Costa Rica again. We made it to town with my arm only slightly bruised from Torie’s death grip. We got off, played the world’s scariest game of Frogger (cross walks are rare), and made it into the Mall. We weren’t really shopping, just exploring. The mall only furthered our confusion about certain aspects of Costa Rican culture. We’ll hit on that another day.
After a trip through the mall, we decided to walk around town a bit and look for lunch. All over are little restaurants called “sodas.” In a soda you get a meat (chicken, fish, pork), a few sides, and a drink. It ran us four bucks each today. I had chicken, cole slaw (it ain’t like back home), plantains, zucchini, potatoes, and a lemonade. It was probably the best I’ve ever eaten for less than $5. We ate at a bigger soda near the University of Costa Rica. I say bigger because it had tables and chairs – many you walk up to and don’t have much, if any seating. Now buying lunch sounds simple enough, but we are learning even the most simple tasks are much more challenging for us here. Our Spanish skills are not where they should be, but we have been able to do everything we have needed to do so far. We stood in the wrong line, did plenty of pointing at foods, and were corrected a few times on our pronunciation, but we ate.
I mentioned before we don’t live in the “postcard” Costa Rica. We live where the Ticos (Costa Ricans) live. From the moment we step out of the gate on our property, I feel like we have a giant sign with flashing lights saying, “GRINGO.” We are so white – and everyone notices. We get stared down quite a bit. I have already been measured in centimeters and used as a measuring stick to see if a new awning was tall enough. Not that we don’t already stand out, but opening our mouths to butcher their language only makes us stand out even more. For the most part, people have been willing to help us. We try our Spanish, it’s usually wrong, and through gesturing we get it done. I know we have to keep practicing and keep trying no matter how ridiculous we sound. It’s hard now, but at the end of this crazy experience, I am sure we will say, “We wouldn’t have had it any other way,”
We’ve made several trips to several stores already and each time gets easier. The bus system already seems pretty simple. I am sure today wasn’t our last mistake on it, but that’s all part of the adventure. It’s only been five days, and I don’t know what all is in store for us. For now we will just keep taking it all in and learning as we go.